Speech therapy for autistic children is not a one size fits all treatment. Children may have different areas of communication they need help with, and speech therapy goals will often differ. It’s helpful for speech therapists to consider providing both individual therapy and depending on the child’s age, therapy in a group setting as well.
Symptoms of autism are often apparent by the age of three. The sooner language delays are recognized, and therapy can start, the better. Typically, speech-language pathologists may help children with autism in the following ways:
Developing Conversational Skills
Autistic children may have difficulty with appropriate social interaction, and that includes communication. Speech and language pathologists can help children develop conversational skills.
Communication is about more than saying words and understanding their meaning. It also involves picking up on the back and forth of conversation, learning not to interrupt, and understanding nonverbal communication. The social piece of communication is vital to help children with autism. Group speech therapy is a useful method to develop conversation skills.
Therapists also work with children with autism to learn to adjust the tone of their voice, improve eye contact when speaking, and understand idioms. Idioms are a group of words that are not taken literally, such as “it’s raining cats and dogs.” Building communications skills may also involve initiating communication.
Utilizing Alternative Communication Methods and Devices
Speech therapists may also help children with autism learn to use alternative communications methods. Some autistic kids are nonverbal. Children who have limited speech may also benefit from utilizing various communication techniques or devices. Therapists assess children and based on age, speech challenges, and goals, identify and teach the best alternative method for communication, such as using a picture communication system, sign language, or speech output devices.
Therapy for Eating and Swallowing Issues
Eating problems are common for autistic children, possibly due to sensory issues. Therapy may involve helping the child move her mouth and tongue properly to aid in chewing. It may also include doing exercises to make the mouth stronger and working with parents to create a calming and inviting atmosphere at mealtime.
Promoting Language Development
Children may also have delays in learning language or difficulty with the pronunciation of words. Therapists may work with children to develop language and speech skills, such as improving articulation, expanding vocabulary, and developing sentence construction.
Children with autism may also need assistance learning to speak more clearly. There are various ways of achieving this including teaching jaw, neck, and mouth exercises that may improve speech.
Speech therapy can be an important part of an overall treatment plan for autistic kids. Speech therapy may not only improve language and speech skills, but it also may promote better social interactions.
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